BJP, Congress standoff undemocratic
After a cordial meeting between the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, it was expected that the Winter Session of the Parliament might run smoothly.
Reform bills were expected to go through without too many obstacles. Modi’s tone in Parliament was conciliatory. He also made a rare gesture of inviting the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for tea. The Congress too climbed down and showed signs of supporting the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, which the Modi government desperately wants to push through this session. A week later, Congress leaders remain unsure even though the government has responded positively to their demands.
So what happened in the interim? First was that Sonia Gandhi has just returned from a visit abroad after she had met with Modi. So, the Congress has to make up its mind only after some structured meetings with the BJP leaders. Congress insiders claim that most of the junior leaders close to Rahul Gandhi. A section of senior leaders are of the view that the Bill should not be passed in the Winter Session and the BJP should be taught a lesson for blocking it during the UPA regime.
Secondly, the atmosphere has become vitiated further after Monday’s high court judgment on the National Herald case in which Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders are allegedly involved. The Delhi High Court has dismissed the plea by the Gandhis for an exemption to appear personally in the trial court. The High Court had observed that the modus operandi adopted by them in taking control of the Associated Journals Limited through special purpose vehicle showed “criminal intent”.
A commission of enquiry investigating the land deal of Sonia Gandhi’s son in law Robert Vadra also wants to summon him. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Gujarat leader Shankar Singh Vaghela, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram’s son Kartik is all under investigation.
It was not surprising that the Congress did not lose a minute in alleging “political vendetta” against its leaders. The party is a little confused whether the court verdict is to tighten the screws to make the Congress agree for the GST bill or whether the BJP has given up the hope and, therefore, is using these pressure tactics. Rahul Gandhi has already been talking about the way his family members are under attack from the BJP government. He told reporters, “I absolutely see a political vendetta. I will answer them in Parliament”. Echoing similar sentiments, a combative Sonia Gandhi, thundered: “Why should I be scared of anyone? I am (former prime minister) Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law. I am not scared of anyone.” So now it is back to confrontation from the earlier efforts of breaking the ice.
The BJP has also been working on parallel lines. The first was Modi’s climb down and his conciliatory route. Although the BJP leadership had told the MPs to be restrained in the house and not fall into a trap by the provocation of the opposition, the confrontation line also continues. This was evident from the way even ministers took on the Congress leader Kumari Seilja (Scheduled Caste) when she made a remark that a Gujarat temple had asked her for her caste.
As for the Congress, the initial talk of constructive cooperation has given way to despair provoked by the fast tracking of investigations against top party leaders. The Congress demand for the sacking of the Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh for his alleged remarks on the Dalits rocked the upper house despite his explanation this week. Rahul Gandhi also led protests in Parliament against VK Singh. The Congress has two reasons for the demand for sacking V.K. Singh. One is to counter the BJP’s appropriation of Ambedkar and the second is to counter Mayawati’s moves. After all, she is positioning herself for the 2017 UP Assembly polls and the Congress, enthused by its Bihar performance is hoping for a revival in UP.
If this continues, the Winter Session also will be a washout unless the two parties compromise and make a deal. The whole of Monsoon session was a complete washout on account of the Opposition demand led by the Congress for the sacking of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on their alleged involvement in the former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s visa and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the Vyapam scam. On the whole, the strategy of both the Congress and the BJP appears to be a perception war. While the BJP wants to show that even after the Prime Minister had climbed down and sought the opposition’s cooperation, the Congress continues to be on a confrontational path. Such a perception, the Modi supporters think, will help them as the public and the industry would believe that the Congress is the villain.
However, after the noose has tightened against senior Congress leaders, particularly in the National Herald case, the party is crying hoarse about political vendetta, which the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has refuted. Even as the political slugfest continues, in all likelihood the confrontation approach has overtaken the conciliatory approach in both parties. The casualty is likely to be the reform bill including the GST. IPA
(The author is a senior political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal)